The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has to reconcile itself with reality. Its recent report that included how much a family of five needs for food in a month is absurd.

The agency, in its subsistence incidence report, estimates that a family of five needs at least P8,379 per month to meet basic food requirements. At P8,379 divided by 30 days, divided by five persons, divided by three meals a day per person, the result is P18.62 per person per meal. This estimate is out of whack and does not reflect what is needed to subsist.

The PSA released last week preliminary results of the Family Income and Expenditure Survey for 2021 that showed poverty incidence among the population rose to 18.1 percent, equivalent to 19.99 million Filipinos who lived below the poverty threshold of about P12,030 per month. In 2018, the last time the survey was conducted, poverty incidence was at 16.7 percent, equivalent to 17.67 million people.

It also said that the subsistence incidence or the proportion of Filipinos whose income is not enough to meet basic food needs went up to 5.9 percent in 2021. The PSA estimated that a family of five needs at least P8,379 per month to meet basic food requirements.

A person can eat with only P18.62 but that would be without the nutrients or the balance required for one to keep healthy. That amount could allow a person to buy a cup of rice with one small egg or a piece of bread or instant noodles, but to have that every meal every day can lead to health problems. The impact of these will be in rising medical costs as immunity and overall health will suffer from a diet lacking in nutrients.

The reality is that families are tightening their belts and choosing to let go of what they need just to keep to the budget. They cut down on electricity use, and switch off air conditioners and refrigerators because they don’t buy food in bulk anyway as they buy by the day.

As to food purchases, sometimes the quality and the nutrients they provide get set aside. Families buy chicken or pork but have to abstain from vegetables or fish as these go beyond the cash in their pockets. Even spices and condiments are cut down.

The disconnect is obvious between what the government agency sees and what is happening inside homes and at dinner tables. The reality is much worse than the figures cited by PSA on poverty. Government planners have to consider this in order that policy and implementation become geared toward addressing the state of the people’s stomachs.

The PSA can start educating itself by simply reading the online reactions and social media comments to its report on poverty and subsistence.

It’s important for the PSA to come up with realistic expectations because their data are used for policy-setting and planning by national and local government.